Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Elevating CSR: A Cone Award for KONE

I couldn't resist this. Today I came across the Kone Company, a Finland-based global corporation which makes elevators and escalators, which is "Dedicated to People Flow".  Making elevators sounds like a fun profession. I immediately thought of "20 fun things to do in an elevator", and a whole section of the fashion industry which has built up just around elevators. 

One of a wide selection of elevator T-Shirts from the cafepress.com shop

It even crossed my mind whether the people at Kone were the original inventors of the elevator pitch which has been so crucial in improving our business communications over the years. You know what an elevator pitch is: a short, succinct message you can deliver between floors of an elevator ride to impress someone important. If Kone were writing their CSR Report in Elevator Pitch style, it might go something like this:

What goes up must come down, and we help that happen.
Our elevators make a contribution to global sustainability by helping people flow.
Imagine urganization without its ups and downs.  
Think how many people would get respiratory failure when visiting the 93rd floor of the  International Finance Center in Shanghai without an elevator.    
Imagine a life without Sim Tower.  
Imagine an elevator pitch without an elevator.
Our CSR Report describes how we support the people flow experience, for a better world and a a sustainable planet.   
Go with the flow and read our CSR Report. 

But no, I found none of this in Kone's 2011 Corporate Responsibility Report.  I didn't even find a cone, which as you may have gathered, is a much tastier version of Kone. Having, therefore, been reminded of my craving for a cone by Kone, I couldn't stop myself checking out if Kone is worth a Cone Award.

Here are the results, the fourth in my Cone Award series:

About the Company:
Global elevator and escalator maker headquartered in Finland
Annual net sales of EURO 5.2 Billion
35,000 employees
8 global production units and 1,000 offices around the world
NASDAQ OMX Helsinki listed
"People Flow" means people moving smoothly, safely, comfortably, and without waiting in and between buildings.

About the Report:
GRI Application Level B+ self-declared and third party checked
PDF 50 pages
Fourth annual corporate responsibility report
Externally assured CO2 emissions
Covers 2011 calendar year.

Ice Cream Cones Awarded:
This report gets the message across. Kone is not just an elevator-maker. Their mission is about People Flow. Helping people to move around. Enabling human development through urbanization. Providing essential services for indispensable buildings such as hospitals, airports, educational institutions, offices and other important places without which our lives would be so much more restricted. Contributing to environmental efficiency by reducing the environmental burden of buildings (which consume 40% of the world's energy, of which up to 10% can come from elevators and escalators). Making buildings safer to navigate (doesn't everyone fear getting stuck in an elevator?). Helping old people stay mobile. The report gets this across well. Kone's contribution and role is society is more than just shipping machinery off a production line.

 Kone provides context for the positioning of the elevator industry and their role in its growth. "Urbanization is the single most important megatrend within the global elevator and escalator industry. It is expected to drive demand for years to come." In addition to environmental focus and safety levels of elevators, Kone also highlights the changing global demographic structure. "The growing number of older people raises the importance of accessibility in buildings and urban infrastructure. There is an ever-growing need for convenience and accessibility. An elevator can help elderly residents live in their homes longer, facilitate the lives of all residents in the building, as well as add value to an existing property."

This cone is for People Flow Day. This is a day when Kone employee teams "act as researchers, talking to customers, interviewing the public, making on-site observations, and completing questionnaires." This enables Kone to get to know how people flow. The 2011 day took place in over 30 countries. (Hmmm, I obviously wasn't on an elevator somewhere that day!) Particular attention was paid to the "accessibility challenges faced by different user groups, such as wheelchair users, those with visual impairments, senior citizens, people in a hurry, and families with young children." "People in a hurry" must be quite challenging. Who is not in a hurry in an urban environment?

Kone has made big strides in energy efficiency of elevators. Today, Kone’s "European volume elevators consume 60 percent less energy, Asian volume elevators 50 percent less, and US volume elevators 40 percent less energy than in 2008". Wonder what went wrong in the US? An explanation of the differences here might have been a good idea. But, overall, this is great eco-progress in just a few years.

Another cone for Kone's lifecycle analysis. Between 56% and 85% of an elevator's life cycle (on the two models examined) are in the use of the elevator. More environmentally friendly materials in making or modernizing elevators can substantially affect the energy consumption during use. A cone for Kone for performing LCAs - not enough companies are doing this today.

A sixth cone for Kone's data presentation. Throughout this report, data is presented clearly and in a well-ordered way, and in a good level of detail. Environmental data, Human Resources data, Safety data etc. In most cases, the data also shows performance improvement. Certainly worthy of a cone.

Finally, a rare seventh cone for the Kohn design. It's neat, easy on the eye, bright, good font, and the graphics are clever but not overfacing. A few hyperlinks within the PDF wouldn't have gone amiss, but in general, it's a pleasant report to peruse.

Ice Cream Cones Dewarded:
Kone's report is a little too much like ice cream. It's all good news. There are no challenges that Kone is facing, other than the continued aspiration to grow the business. There are no performance failures whatsoever. For example, one of the key material issues for Kone is safety and reliable performance (flow) of the equipment. Kohn services 850,000 elevators around the world and I am not sure how many new installations the company completes each year. They have 12,000 service technicians.  I might have expected, in this report, to read something about the safety and reliability record of Kohn products. Reading this report, everything seems truly... well... flowing. I suspect the reality may not be quite so rosy, and maybe I am wrong, but Kohn doesn't actually give us any data on how many problems occurred with their equipment that caused a safety risk or what the reliability of Kohn products has been. I think this report would be more credible if it included just one or two of the things Kone might prefer not to report, if any exist.

This Cone Deward is for the Plus. Kone's External Assurance Statement covers limited assurance on CO2 emissions only, Scope 1 and 2. As you all know by now, the GRI system enables reporting companies to claim a "+" with the Application Level if the report is externally assured. Well, counting and checking CO2 emissions is not report assurance, in my view. It's a good thing, of course, but not enough to earn Kone a "+". For that, I take a cone back. 

The Kone report is a little repetitive. The company labors the point a little about how much effort they put in to understanding people flow and finding the right, efficient, modern, high-performance solutions. I am sure this is the root of success, but even so, we don't need to read it quite so often.

Overall Net Ice Cream Cone Status:
And it's a Net Four Cones for Kohn bringing Kohn to the top of  the Cone League Table. Is it really that good? Or am I getting overgenerous with my cones these days? Judge for yourself. And dont forget to send feedback :)

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices   Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen   on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

16 Great Corporate CSR Blogs

These past few years have witnessed a multitude of corporate CSR and/or Sustainability blogs. These are immensely valuable for companies as a way to update all those who might be interested in the way the focus on CSR is maintained throughout the year and not just at Sustainability Report time. Blogs are also a way for companies to tell their stories through the faces and voices of employees (and most seem to be genuine, rather than ghosted), thereby gaining both internal momentum as well as an external presence. Also, corporate CSR blogs are an opportunity to elicit feedback. We should not be concerned that very few people actually engage on blogs. As I know from experience with my own blogs, posts spark the discussion but very often, the conversation takes place off-blog. Companies who share via their blogs demonstrate that they are open to these conversations. A case in point is the great example of my interaction with Microsoft a few weeks back.

Here, in alfa order, are ten of the companies whose corporate CSR Blogs are on my radar.

adidas Group Blog
This is a nice blog from members of the adidas team, headed up by the adidas Chief Communications Officer, covering, as you might imagine, all things related to sport, adidas brands, and often, things related to CSR and community involvement. While the blog has a broad scope, clicking the Sustainability Aspects category via the Category Search function brings up some interesting material including the latest post about German TV's visit inside adidas factories in China and a frank look at working conditions. The Community Involvement Category showcases adidas's volunteering and other projects for society.

Applied Materials Blog
The "About this Blog" page explains that the Applied Materials Blog is "dedicated to a global discussion about the ideas, actions and products changing the world as we know it.  Here we will provide insight into the innovations being created by our employees, technologists and global workforce as well as continue to drive the conversation about the role clean technology can play in saving our planet, while also creating jobs and other economic benefits by helping promote energy independence. We will also discuss the importance of being a leading global citizen and operating in an environmentally and socially responsible manner." Bloggers include members of the Applied team, including the CEO, though he has obviously been rather busy of late as his last post was in 2010. For those interested in renewable energy, this is quite an interesting blog.

BT Better Future Blog
This blog is subtitled "Join the Debate, We Want your Views". However, there are not yet any comments on any of the  posts so far, dating back, as far as I can tell, to February 2012.  The BT blog is a hybrid, containing posts from BT people and also external stakeholders, such as this post about "Embracing all in the digital revolution" by John Fisher, Chief Executive of Citizens Online, or this one, from a  Year 10 pupil at a school in Northern England, who participated in BT’s Big Voice competition gives young people the chance to make short films on inclusion and diversity issues. It's a nice touch to have external stakeholders on the blog. I always say that there is a great credibility advantage in letting others help tell your  story. The BT blog is not so active - only 10 posts in around four months - but it's a presence and the material is interesting and informative. Suggestion for improvement: Add an "About this Blog" page, tell us what you are trying to do with the blog and provide the bios of the key regular contributors.  Who is writing the blog is as important as what they are writing :).
(N.B. Kevin Moss, BT Americas CSR head also maintains a private-business BT blog at CSR Perspective, which is always a worthwhile read.)

Centrica's Blog
Centrica, with its vision to be the most trusted energy company, has been running a blog now since 2008, managing to maintain around three to four posts per month.  It is populated with a range of CSR related stories, news about Centrica's Sustainability Reporting, and market developments which affect energy consumption and practices. Authors have a short profile on the blog, on their landing page. The blog forms a part of Centrica's overall communications strategy  to get more online more frequently, with a plan for weekly updates throughout 2012. A good example of how blogging can be used to change or correct perceptions is this post on the value of windpower in cutting CO2 emissions. Following a public report that the economic and emissions benefits of windpower are just hot air (ha-ha, couldn't resist), Centrica provides their own perspective on why windpower is an important alternative renewable energy source.

Citi Blog from Citi group
This blog covers information about Citi's citizenship and community activities, and other topics relevant to Citi's role in society. Some of the posts are rather finance-geek oriented, through many of more general interest for CSR fans. Despite the topical relevance of this post, entitled "Executive compensation at Citi", no comments were left by readers. On the other hand, this post, entitled "You Spoke. We Listened" generated 385 comments, many of which were complaints and requests for better service. To Citi's credit (no pun intended :), a post responding to the 385 was published soon thereafter. This is the power of the blog and  one instance in which I see a blog truly engaging customers and responding to them in a considerate way. Citi celebrated its 200th anniversary with a series of posts from the Bank's history, including this latest one about what is probably one of the earliest graduate training programs on record, the hiring of 20 graduates in 1915 to train for careers overseas, to boost the Bank's international presence.  
This is a lively and informative blog which covers a wide range of topics related to CSR, offering information about food, eating and nutrition habits, food preparation, environmental tips and more, as well as updates about what's going on in the world of Delhaize CSR activities. Archives go back to June 2011 and the blog has maintained a good stream of content since then, using pictures and videos to liven things up, and even the occasional smiley. There is an About Us page, which describes the blog's purpose, but no details of who is doing all the writing. In fact, all the posts are anonymously authored. Suggestion for improvement: Let us know who is behind the Delhaize posts!  Even if the blog is authored by a professional communications company, it's still pretty good!   

This is part of the FedEx corporate blog and the CSR bit represents the posts that are tagged with CSR. However, the overall blog tag cloud has CSR, sustainability, environment, disaster relief etc as the most prominent keywords, so the CSR elements of the FedEx blog dominates. Posts are written by FedEx people and clicking on each author's name takes you to a bio page so that you can see who you are reading. The FedEx blog is followed by FedEx people as is evidenced by frequent comments, many of which express pride at being part of the FedEx company. What a great way to showcase this organization's culture.

GlaxoSmithKline (U.S) More than Medicine
This is a very interesting blog, rooted in GSK's U.S. operations, which covers the role of Big Pharma in healthcare, appropriate for the company which heads up the Access to Medicine Index.  The purpose of the blog, which has been running consistently for a few years now, is stated as "Our goal is to encourage an open, productive discussion about a range of topics related to the US healthcare system and how it can be improved. And we're going to try and do our best to provide a GSK perspective that doesn't sound like it's written in "legalese." But the blog doesn't cover only healthcare issues. It includes a wide range of posts on different aspects of GSK's CSR programs and employee volunteering events. The blog also has an "About this Blog" page so you know the rules and who is doing the editing and posting.

Intel CSR Blog
No summary of CSR Blogs would be complete without the Intel CSR Blog. I don't know if it's the longest running, but it started in 2007, when very few corporates had even heard of the Internet, let alone think of blogging on it. The Intel blog has maintained a consistently high quality of posts at the rate of about 8 posts per month since then, and is still going strong, also being used as a platform for sharing "bite-sized" pieces of the annual CR Report. Contributors to the Intel CSR blog are a range of Intel execs from all over the world, and from a range of business functions. You can get to meet them on the "Meet the Bloggers" page, where each has a short bio and there is also an About this Blog page. What's nice about this Intel Blog is that it covers a broad spectrum of topics under the CSR umbrella and often includes special posts, such as this one,  from Intel volunteers  with the Intel Education Service Corps, who tell first hand of their experiences in different countries around the world. Quite an inspiring program.  

Johnson and Johnson BTW Blog
The "About BTW" page on the J&J BTW blog starts with the line: "Everyone else is talking about our company, so why can’t we?" How true! This is also one of the veteran blogs, which joined the blogosphere in June 2007, and its blog tag cloud clearly makes citizenship the number one topic. We are introduced to the bloggers  on a separate page. From disease to diversity to greening the healthcare system, the J&J blog covers a lot of ground and is well written, mainly by the J&J team, presenting personal views and perspectives on CSR and healthcare related issues, using plenty of videos and infographics to make the reader experience a little more fun. It's a serious, intelligent blog which offers good information and an occasional external post from a relevant expert. 

McDonald's Open for Conversation Blog
The blog is Open for Conversation and conversation it gets. Most posts yield several comments, including this one, about  McDonald's bold decision to stop gestation stalls for sows. The blog is sponsored by McDonald's VP for Sustainability, Bob Langert,  and is edited by McDonald's Community Manager and appears to have been running since July 2011, which is the first archived post, in which Bob Langert outlines the three big shifts in business that underpin sustainability. It's an interesting blog and one which, you will be surprised to find, hardly mentions hamburgers, though the juicy double cheeseburger and chips on the blog graphics reminds you where you are. A good blog and worth a look in for important insights and yes, discussion.

Dating back to February 2008, the Microsoft blog is a combination of technical tips and updates and other aspects of Microsoft's CSR performance.  Posts are coordinated by the Microsoft Citizenship team but names are not named and bios are not bio'd. This blog is of less interest to the general CSR reader, though anyone wanting to keep up to date with the latest software for non-profits will enjoy it. Suggestion for improvement: Expose the Microsoft Citizenship Team!

Microsoft also maintains an excellent environmental blog called Software Enabled Earth which is the official blog of Microsoft's environmental sustainability team. It's a great round-up of everything environmental and includes a weekly post of what's topical.

Netafim Blog- Pioneering Irrigation
This is a great blog from a great company with a great story to tell. The impact of drip-irrigation on sustainable agriculture is powerful. The blog is written by Netafim's CSO, Naty Barak, and contains a range of perspectives and updates on Netafim's activities to advance agricultural productivity around the world.  The blog started in 2010 with a short but sweet post on how Netafim broadened its outlook from a small desert Kibbutz to global sustainability, and has maintained a flow of one to two posts per month since then.

Telefonica Public Policy Blog
"With this blog, Telefónica wishes to share its views on global policy issues concerning Digital communication, Internet, Broadband and Sustainability, but also receive your feedback and ideas."  This is a line from the "About this Blog" page, where the key authors and their bios are also provided. Archives go back to January 2011, and the top post ever got close to 7,000 hits on the subject of "Europe leading social innovation".  The Telefonica blog is highly informative about public policy issues, as its name suggests, with a focus on European Commission and changes and developments of legislation in the ICT sector. A very useful blog for those with an interest in this field. I particularly liked (and learned from) this recent post about the new European Commission strategy for making the internet safer for children.

This blog is for stories from the Timberland community about the Timberland brand, business, products and passions. The blog has archives back to mid 2008 which makes this another veteran corporate CSR blog. Posts are by Timberland people who have a landing page with their job title and personal information such as what they do in their spare time. This is a blog for those who love the Great Outdoors, though it also covers different aspects of Timberland CSR performance and initiatives, such as this post which describes how a Timberland jacket is made from recycled plastic bottles and even recycled coffee grounds. Coffee grounds are, apparently, excellent at absorbing odor. If you can't wear it, as they say, drink it!

Beware though if you are a CEO Blogger. If you leave the company under a cloud, your blog gets taken down. Brian Dunn, the former BestBuy CEO blogger,  knows this from first-hand experience.

Finally, there are many other great corporate CSR blogs out there, and all differ  in style, tone, content and focus. I have covered but a few. I feel sure that all companies reap major benefits from blogging, and it's an informal and inviting way to communicate, personalize the business and create trust.

Disclosure: Netafim in Israel, Intel in Israel, GSK in Romania are clients of my company, Beyond Business.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant,  winning Sustainability Reporter (CRRA '12 Best SME Report), HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen   on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Learning CSR Lessons in Romania

Following my posts on the Value of Case Studies and the Ukraine Case Study contest, the third in this Case Study Trilogy is set against the backdrop of the Transylvanian Mountains and Count Dracula, who could probably have written several Case Studies but not necessarily about sustainability. This post takes us to Bucharest, home to 2.2 million people and the center of Romania's growing economy. It is also home to Dragos Dehelean, Managing Partner of Selenis, a PR  and Communications firm and CEO of ResponsabilitateSociala, a comprehensive portal for all things CSR in Romania. ResponsabilitateSociala is the driving force behind a two day annual event, presenting European CSR Lessons, or Case Studies, for the benefit of the local CSR practitioners, professionals, academics and NGO's. While I was unable to attend on Day One, I had a fabulous time on Day Two (16th May 2012).

The first part of the day was devoted to a panel discussion on community development with speakers from Petrom, Erste Bank Serbia, GlaxoSmithKline Romania, Raiffeisen Bank, and Fundatia Vodafone. All presented fascinating examples of the way they had developed their programs, and spoke frankly about the challenges, dilemmas and choices along the way. An audience of some hundred participants was highly engaged, and each presentation was met with several questions.

Mona Nicolici from Petrom described how  Petrom developed a new strategy which started with educating employees in Sustainability and forming ten action teams throughout the company's operations to support community empowerment programs.  Andrea Brbaklić from Erste Bank in Serbia described her company's program, called Centrifuge, to promote cultural decentralization, youth activism and prevent deviant behavior. Andreia Cucu of GlaxoSmithKline Romania talked about the company's  'The health of kids in the Danube Delta,' program, together with the Association Save the Danube and the Delta by which 80 percent of the kids in this poor and isolated area of Romania benefited from a free medical examination and a health campaign. Corina Vasile of Raiffeisen Bank described the bank's program of donating funds to NGO using social media tools. Finally, in this fascinating session, Elena Serban of the Vodafone Foundation explained how the global foundation provides grants for six-month professional volunteering opportunities, with fifteen people from Romania taking part this year.

The afternoon session was devoted to stakeholder engagement and ways in which companies interact with stakeholders. In this session, I presented a case study from my client comme il faut, an Israeli fashion house, and the way this company engages with different stakeholder groups and also leverages a much broader dialog in society to advance the position of women.

Here is my presentation:

What impressed me most about the day, however, was not only the high quality presentations and generosity of the presenters in sharing their approaches, but also the intense engagement of the audience who fully involved themselves in the debates that arose. Overall, there is a fine sustainability movement building momentum in Romania, and this is a pleasure to see. Kudos to Dragos Dehelean for making a formidable contribution.

As for me, I will be back in Bucharest next week, working with a client on their first Sustainability Report. Hope they haven't run out of ice cream.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices   Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen   on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Case Studies Work for Good in Ukraine

Following my introductory post about the Value of Case Studies (here), now it is time to share how this works in Ukraine.

I was fortunate to attend the launch of the fourth National Case Study Contest in Kiev, Ukraine on 14th May.

Actually, my story with this contest started a while back, in my capacity as a judge in the third year of the contest. The contest is hosted by the Center for CSR Development in Ukraine, led by the ever-energetic Maryna Saprykina, the dynamo of the CSR scene in Ukraine.

Over the three years of this program, over 110 case studies have been submitted. The contest is generously sponsored by Ernst and Young in Kiev, where the passionate Victor Kovalenko, Climate Change and Sustainability Services practice manager, Ernst and Young, has a strong personal involvement.

The case studies that were submitted last year covered a wide spectrum of topics ranging from road safety, employee engagement, educational programs and more, and were all of impressive quality, clearly stating the issue addressed, the activity and the outcomes.

The winning Case Study in 2011 was from System Capital Management (SCM) a professional investor and the managing company of a financial and industrial group of Ukraine, the SCM Group, which comprises over 100 companies in Ukraine and internationally, employing around 200,000 people. The case study showed SCM's significant contribution to education. "Reforming Ukraine's education system has been an increasingly important issue on the national agenda as far as for the country's successful development and its ability to compete in the modern economy depend on the quality of education of its citizens. Starting from 2008, we have been implementing our social programme “Contemporary Education”, based on concrete steps to ensure that the quality of training of Ukrainian university graduates corresponds to the demands of the real economy sector. The programme has 4 key components aimed and driving the education reform agenda. We believe that by investing in education and raising the quality and standards today we are investing in successful development of Ukraine in the future." In this program, 234 universities took part in a Compass Ranking in 2008-2011, creating awareness for educational possibilities and over 2,000 students from different universities attended master classes delivered by SCM executives in 2010-2011.

The second place went to Turbatoam,  one of the world's largest turbine construction enterprise that implements full production cycle: design, manufacture, supply, installation and adjusting, firm maintenance of turbine equipment for all types of power plants. The issue at Turbatoam was a poor image and difficulty in recruiting young appropriately qualified professionals. The company established a comprehensive Human Resources management program to ensure attraction and retention. The program covered salary restructuring, a full social policy, education, training and career development, and results-based incentives. This resulted in a more balanced age profile in the company and more effective attraction and recruitment of young professionals.

The third place went to ViDi Group, a leader in the automotive and logistics market in Ukraine. In 2009 the Company established the first in Ukraine City of Cars "ViDi AutoCity", which includes authorized dealerships of leading international car brands. The ViDi case study also related to people management, inspired by the need to cope with rapid organizational growth, through creating a staff loyalty program, based on employee dialogue and responses to needs. Turnover reduced by 4% and 16% of staff achieved promotion in 2010 and many other benefits were realized. 

Other interesting studies included:

Auchan, a hypermarket retailer, which developed a program to address the spread of AIDS. The speed of AIDS development in Ukraine is one of the highest in the world with up to 148,000 people infected with the AIDS virus and over 8,000 children hospitalized due to this disease.  Auchan developed a fabulous program to raise awareness and support AIDS prevention.

The Lafarge Group developed a program to address road safety.  The Lafarge Group had over 30 road fatalities in 2010 and early 2011. Therefore, in 2011 the topic of road safety was made a priority and several effective programs implemented for employees and the local community.

Obolon, a large brewery, developed a case study to support environmental protection and recycling of plastic bottles, a major issue in Ukraine.

I expect that the fourth contest, which will give preference to Sustainability Reporting, will be just as fascinating! To introduce the theme, I made a presentation on Trends and Best Practices in Sustainability Reporting (which I will cover in another post!) .

Still on the theme of Sustainability Reporting, I enjoyed a most interesting panel moderated by Pavlo Sheremeta, a partner at Inspira  with panelists Viktoria Grib, Sustainability Manager, DTEK, Viktoria Mykhno, Head of PR at Platinum Bank and Victor Kovalenko of Ernst and Young mentioned above. Aside from the fact that the panel was only for people with names beginning with V, one of the most interesting themes of this discussion was the element of fear which stops companies taking that first step toward transparency.

Both DTEK and Platinum Bank overcame all fears and reservations and are pioneers in the Ukraine market. DTEK published their first Sustainability Report covering 2007 and report every two years with a UNGC COP every year. DTEK's most recent Sustainability Report is here. Their journey has been progressive with each successive report more transparent than the previous one. The process of external verification has also been of value, helping management understand the issues that are important for the company to address in the report and its impacts on society. Platinum Bank published a first report in 2010,  a GRI based report at level C,  and as far as I can tell, the first bank in Ukraine to publish a Sustainability Report. Viktoria Mykhno shared her learnings from the process of developing this report, which included a wise piece of advice: "Be concise and meaningful - cut out what's not material - it's like cutting out your heart, but do it anyway!"

But back to case studies and the fabulous program in Ukraine. It's a way to share, learn, engage and build a body of best practice. I am looking forward to seeing the new submissions later this year. And more Ukranian companies reporting on their sustainability impacts.

Photo Credits to the Center for CSR Development. see  more here.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz  (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

The Case for Sustainability Case Studies

How can you use Case Studies to galvanize markets? I have two fine examples from my personal experience this week in Eastern Europe. The first: Ukraine. The second: Romania.

On Monday 14th May, I was pleased to attend the launch of the Fourth Annual National Case Study Contest in Kiev, Ukraine. On Wednesday 16th May, I was also pleased to attend the second day of the European CSR Lessons Conference in Bucharest, Romania. Both events show how the development of Case Studies are contributing to increasing awareness, recognition and sharing of best practice as a platform for market development in these two fabulous and energetic markets where CSR is emerging with the help of committed and dynamic leaders.

What is the value  of a Sustainability Case Study?

A Case Study helps develop Internal Dialogue and Learning: In order to develop a full Case Study, which offers much more depth than a short paragraph on a website or in a Sustainability Report, a comprehensive dialogue must be held within an organization to establish the background, full story of activities conducted, description of outcomes and aggregation of learnings. This cannot be done by one person alone. A great Case Study is the result of internal collaboration which engenders dialogue and teamwork and expands learning for entire teams and companies.

A Case Study helps Focus on Outcomes: By its very nature, a Case Study is not complete without a description, quantitative as well as qualitative, of the outcomes of activity. By its very nature, a Case Study cannot be written until an activity or a process is complete and has delivered a change in the status quo. Far too often, especially in Sustainabiltiy Reporting, or even in internal decision making processes, the focus is on "doing" rather than "delivering an outcome". A Case Study, well-written, encompasses both, and helps link what is done to what has changed as a result. In terms of sustainability, this is of course key. It is unfathomable that we have thousands of companies "doing" sustainability without being able to explain the noticeable impacts of such activity.

A Case Study is an Organizational Story: Often a Case Study will tell the story of an organization's culture and showcase the way things get done. This becomes an organizational story, which can be told and retold in order to inspire additional sustainability activities in the company and reinforce a culture of sustainability and responsible practices. Moreover, a Case Study is one of the few platforms where company can tell its own story in full. There is little media coverage of individual, successful sustainability interventions. Case Studies can fill that gap.

A Case Study is a Learning Tool: Because a Case Study of necessity contains detail of all the stages of an initiative, the Case Study becomes a learning tool for an organization and for external stakeholders. By developing a Case Study, an organization contributes to the body of knowledge in the field, which is important, given the relatively limited knowledge about what is actually happening in companies today. There are many headlines, Press Releases and  short references to Sustainability practices available via different channels. The depth of a good Case Study creates not only awareness but also knowledge of what can be done, and how and what works best.

A Case  Study is a  Tool to Engage Stakeholders: Beyond the internal learning and dialogue, a Case Study can be used to engage external stakeholders either in the preparation of a Case Study in which they were involved or were impacted, and/or in the discussion of case studies completed. This both enlightens stakeholders about the sustainability activities of the company and also involves them in evaluating the sustainability initiatives. The insights of external stakeholders about possible reapplication, extension or development of a concept could be valuable for a company in determining future goals.

A Case Study is a Platform for Building Reputation: While Case Studies alone cannot build trust, and they are best in combination with existing, transparent, sustainability communications on a broader level, Case Studies can contribute to building reputation by showing how companies identified a risk or an opportunity, addressed either or both, and delivered focused action. This confirms the sustainability capabilities of a company and demonstates their commitment, which has positive reputational value.

Case Studies build Transparency Muscles: Many companies which are not ready to deliver a full, transparent Sustainability Report can develop their transparency muscles through publishing Case Studies. Often, this carries little risk because Case Studies tend to focus on successful examples of practice. The publication of a Case Study is a way to create awareness for corporate sustainability activities without the necessary rigor of producing a GRI-based or UNCG or other form of report, which demands much higher resources and much greater transparency. In the absence of broader sustainability communications, a Case Study becomes a pilot for transparency, and starts getting those muscles into shape.

Case Studies build Discipline: Finally, the development of a Case Study requires discipline and rigor. Used as a leadership exercise, this can help build management and communication skills, and teamworking, within an organization.

Events framed around the development of Case Studies are attractive propositions. The development of a single Case Study is usually not a massive organizational resource burden. Participation in such events often accessible to companies where more extensive disclosure requirements might exclude many from participating. In Ukraine and Romania, this is well understood and both are using the Case Study concept as a way to drive sustainability and awareness  in their nascent markets.

To read more about the Ukraine Case Study experience, go to this post:

To read more about the European CSR Lessons Case Study conference, go to this post.

For ice cream, go to your local ice cream parlor or get yourself one of these (a kind gift from my friend, Paul Scott, MD of CorporateRegister.com)

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen   on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Friday, May 11, 2012

CSR: 8 short questions, 5 long answers

For those of you who don't speak Romanian (which I don't, though I have downloaded an App :)), I thought I would provide a translation of my recent interview which appeared online here. The interview is with ResponsabilitateSociala.ro,  the premier portal in Romania for all things relating to CSR. Andreea Giuclea, editor of ResponsabilitateSociala conducted the interview and was responsible for asking me many thought-provoking questions. ResponsabilitateSociala is hosting the annual Europe CSR Lessons on 15th and 16th May in Bucharest, with a fine line-up of speakers and fascinating case studies. I will be presenting a home-grown case study from my own market on Wednesday 16th May. More about that after the event.

When Bing Tanslate came up with an interesting "English" translation of my interview in Romanian, I realized that I had to step in. This is just one example:

"They may advise you to report the more honest and transparentin a way that allows the 2nd really imactul to evaluate their activity. Finally, we advise you to be realistic and authentic, and to accept the fact that lies on a road that stretches over many years and a day trip."

Here is the interview in full. Bingless. 

As CEO of a CSR consulting firm, you work with companies that are trying to develop responsibly. What is the main advice you offer them?

We recognize that companies have to start where they are. As consultants, we are always looking to help our clients deliver more progress, better results, faster implementation and broader and deeper assimilation of sustainability principles in the business. However, we recognize that companies can only do so much and that they have to pace themselves. Sustainability is a long-term effort and must follow a strategy which has a scope and a timing which is right for each business.

We therefore advise companies to look at their broader role in society and how their sustainability performance is positioned in the context of the contribution they make to a better world. We advise companies to find the right focus for their business and drive their performance in that focused area as hard as they can, while ensuring a minimum baseline across key sustainability indicators. We advise companies to ensure they bring along all their employees and external partners – sustainability works best when it forms a culture which is embedded in the business and is done in partnership.

We urge companies to measure not only performance, but outcomes and consider the question: what is different in the world as a result of our sustainability performance? We advise companies to report as honestly and as transparently about their business in a way which enables stakeholders to gain a true appreciation of their impacts. Finally, we advise companies to be realistic and authentic, acknowledging they are on a multi-year journey and not a day-trip.

Could you tell us what is your opinion of the current phase of corporate social responsibility? What are the main challenges that the field is facing?

Worldwide, I believe sustainability is in a dynamic phase and moving towards a more holistic representation of the concept. Rather than just trying to "be good" or "do good", there is more of a realization these days that sustainability is a way of business, not just a project which runs alongside the business. No longer just about values or philanthropy, companies now see they can make money through sustainability.

This means that companies are looking for the "shared value" aspects of sustainability activity which are generated through different business models. Regulation is also getting keener in many countries and carbon emissions, energy, water and other natural resources are becoming more expensive. Financially, companies are realizing that their financial balance sheet has the potential to be significantly affected by government intervention with carbon taxation, water taxation, landfill costs etc.

The move to an integrated approach to sustainability, characterized by the integrated reporting model, is taking time to be fully understood but is showing signs of reaching a wider corporate audience. Finally, the use of web-based tools to connect with stakeholders and online interactions to gather stakeholder feedback are becoming more acceptable.

Beyond Business is a firm based in Israel that works with local and international clients. From this point of view, what regions do you think are more open to CSR initiatives and how can you explain it? Are there any cultural differences regarding the approach towards social responsibility?

Broadly, the approach to sustainability is more governed by the size and global nature of a business, rather than its location. Global companies, which are generally leading the sustainability pathway, operate in the same way in every market in which they are present. This has the effect of leveling out local and cultural differences. Local companies in every market are impacted significantly by the standards established by leading businesses, as they are often suppliers to these businesses. Microsoft, P&G and Wal-Mart, for example, require their suppliers to report on sustainability performance.

However, in a more general sense, there are some differences in culture and focus, depending on the state of business and sustainability practice. Local companies in emerging economies, for example, are primarily concerned with ensuring compliance and attention to quality, safety and employee standards, while focusing their efforts on those aspects of sustainability which will deliver shorter term cost advantages, such as energy and raw materials savings. In some areas, such as India, sustainability is more about citizenship and philanthropic activities. In some countries, such as Japan, sustainability is very systematic and driven by quality frameworks, whereas in other countries, such as Africa, it's more about social equality and empowerment.

You also offer Sustainability Reporting consultancy. How important is for a company to be transparent about its CSR activities?

We see transparency as a catalyst for performance. The very act of preparing a Sustainability Report causes a company to confront many issues within its business which have never been addressed previously in the same way. Different questions are asked and new measurements are required. Core deliberations about disclosure cause serious discussions in the business at the highest levels. Making a public commitment to targets and action plans carry a certain pressure to deliver, far more than with targets communicated internally.

Additionally, Sustainability Reporting is a source of pride for employees and serves to support employee engagement. Therefore, most companies find that reporting serves as a management tool to help define and determine performance levels, set targets, engage employees and make progress.

In addition, of course, transparency is the basis of a trusting relationship with stakeholders – research has shown that readers of Sustainability Reports increase their level of trust in the reporting company, even if the report is not of the highest quality. (See specifically the recent report from ACCSR, on readers' perceptions of Sustainability Reports) A strong level of trust from stakeholders is massively significant and can help the company move forward and overcome challenges and risks. Often, the Sustainability Report is the only place in which the company can tell its own story, as reports in the press may be misrepresentative.

What are the main challenges you face when trying to convince companies about the importance of CSR reporting?

More and more these days, we do less in terms of "trying to convince" companies to report. We prefer to talk to companies about Sustainable Business Strategy, and help them understand why and how this is beneficial for their business as well as for society and for the planet. The Sustainability Report is part of this discussion. Our reputation as Sustainability Report consultants often brings companies to approach us after they have made the decision to report and are looking for the expert support to deliver the best document they can.

However, we still spend much time and energy in helping develop awareness in the market, through our writings, conferences and our work with different corporate groups. One initiative, which we started in 2009, is called the Transparency Index. We evaluate and publish a ranking of the website transparency of leading public companies in different markets in the world to see how they are reflecting sustainability issues in an accessible way through their web platform. For the first few years, we covered the Israeli market only, but now, in partnership with the Center for CSR Development in Ukraine, we are expanding this into a global index which will be launched later this year. Web-based transparency is also influenced by the presence of a Sustainability Report.

In general, we find that companies which are on the sustainability journey are more ready to report because they have accepted that transparency is an inseparable part of the overall process. Often, they are subject to pressures from their customers or even competitive pressures to report. Those who have not, often talk about the complexity, cost and lack of investor pressure to report. However, these are companies who have not quite understood what Sustainability Reporting is all about. Even as an SME, you might say a micro-business, my consulting firm Beyond Business published a first Sustainability Report (which won an award as the Best SME Report in the global CRRA '12 Awards in April 2012), and we intend to report every two years. As a consulting firm, this is important for us to "practice what we preach" and demonstrate that any reason for not reporting on sustainability is simply an excuse and not a justification.

You are the author of the book ”CSR for HR: A Necessary Partnership for Advancing Responsible Business Practices”. Could you tell us in a few words what is the role played by the HR department in establishing a CSR strategy?

The Human Resources function in any business has an important leadership role to play in contributing to the definition and execution of sustainability strategy in any company, and also in establishing Human Resources practices which are sustainable. Sustainability done well requires changing the culture of the business. The Human Resources function has the specialist knowledge and skill to drive culture change processes.

To embed sustainability, HRM needs to be clear about the contribution of employee engagement and employee practices to delivery of an overall sustainable business plan. Many HRM processes are inextricably linked to sustainability themes – compensation, recruitment, diversity and inclusion, safety, health and wellbeing. HRM can also make a profit-supporting contribution to sustainability. Wellbeing programs, for example, are now known to deliver up to four times the investment for companies, in increased employee productivity, reduced health costs and insurance premiums, reduced absenteeism and turnover. HR needs to get better at measuring their contribution and tabling the benefits in a clear way. Regrettably, most HR Managers have still not understood this.

From your experience, can you give us some examples of how businesses can become more sustainable? Do you admire any companies in particular for their approach towards sustainability?

I think the first thing is for a company to make the decision to define a clear strategy that integrates sustainability thinking into business processes and define what the desired outcome is. In the current line-up, it is hard not to ignore Unilever as a company which has made bold statements about sustainability, "decoupling" environmental impacts from corporate growth and trying to engage consumers in behavior change, with a CEO who is very vocal about the importance of this approach and carries much influence.

There are many companies I admire, ranging from large global corporations to smaller local businesses in different countries. Pepsico, Marks and Spencer, BT, Novo Nordisk, GlaxoSmithKline, Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Walt Disney, Vodafone, Telefonica of Spain, Westpac Bank of Australia, Kesko of Finland, Natura Cosmeticos of Brazil, Novus International from the U.S., Netafim of Israel, – some of whom are my clients - are all showing sustainability leadership in many different ways.

I think the important thing here is not to try to reduce sustainability to one single denomination. Sustainability is a complex set of factors and no company is totally perfect. As long as a company is stretching itself to do what it can from where it is, and making demonstrable progress, I have admiration for that.

How do you see the evolution and future of corporate social responsibility?

There is a lot of debate about whether CSR or Sustainability will remain as a distinct function in business or whether it will become absorbed into the fabric of each business and part of the general responsibilities of managers and the way they do things. I don't believe this latter approach will work. I believe that Sustainability will always be a required focus of every business, acting as a platform and a guide and a set of checks and balances for each business.

I believe sustainability is growing into an important profession which will rank alongside the business leadership with its own voice and contribution to successful sustainable business strategy. Of course, it does become part of everyone's role, but without leadership, no business function has impact. Just as businesses have absorbed Quality as a Way of Life, but there is still a Quality Manager in most businesses, so Sustainability cannot survive without its own distinct strategic leadership within the business.

Over the coming years, I believe we will see more regulation around sustainability themes, especially transparency and reporting, and therefore the number of companies which deliver Sustainability Reports will increase substantially. This will have the effect of catalyzing sustainability performance and creating a new competitive threshold for all companies everywhere. Companies which do not participate in this movement will lose ground and become the exception.

For those companies which are still undecided about sustainability, the time is now! In Romania, I believe there are massive opportunities, with a growing economy and a stronger presence in Europe and in the world. This is the time for companies in Romania to align with leading business practice and become more prominent in their adoption of a sustainability approach.

I am looking forward to the European CSR Lessons Conference and to being back in Bucharest. They have fabulous ice cream in Bucharest :)

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen   on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What makes a Sustainability Report good or bad?

My friend and CSR & Sustainability Consultant Juan Villamayor, who writes a great blog, is also writing a dissertation on the quality of Sustainability Reporting. In return for the promise of loads of ice-cream the next time I am in Barcelona, I agreed to provide Juan with my thoughts in response to his question:

What makes a Sustainability Report good or bad?

After I had drafted my response, pretty much off the cuff, I thought I would share it, in case anyone else is writing a dissertation. More ice cream for me, right ? Here is more or less what I wrote:

What makes a Sustainability Report good?

Ultimately, the test of a good or bad Sustainability Report is in the value it adds to a business (and by implication, to the stakeholders of that business). This may be internal value (management processes, engagement etc.) or external value such as building trust and managing risk. Unfortunately, companies rarely measure the value they gain from Sustainability Reporting, though most confirm that they do gain value. I would love to see some research about the specific impact of reporting on companies.

Assuming the report adds value, what makes a report good or bad depends on who is interested in it. Most reports are written for a range of stakeholders and therefore try to cover a balanced set of issues. However, depending who you are, this may or may not be enough. If you are an environmental activist and cannot find clear, relevant environmental impact data, you will be disappointed. If you are in a local community which has been affected by the company's operations, and cannot find information relating to the company's local impacts in your area, you will be disappointed. If you are an employee and read about information which you did not previously know, you may become more engaged and proud, or you may feel disconnected to read in a report what you might have expected to hear through an internal communication process. If on the other hand, you are a professional reporter, and expect reports to reflect a discipline of transparency, measurement and provide data about the company's sustainability impacts, then you tend to look for (not in order of importance) :

The Company's Role in Society
One of the first things I look to a Sustainability Report to do is enlighten me as to how the company sees its role in society. Sustainability is not just about improving impacts and behaving ethically. It's about doing business in a different way which makes a social contribution. I like to see companies define that contribution before they get into the detail of how many tons of paper they have recycled. This provides context for the report.

Material Issues
A materiality matrix (see interactive example from BASF here) which identifies the specific most important issues that the company faces in sustainability performance which has been developed using input from external and internal stakeholders, is important. Specific companies are at specific risk and face specific opportunities, as well as having very specific impacts on people and planet. Materiality helps us understand what these are and react accordingly.

I look for the outcomes or impacts of the company's Sustainability activities, not just performance. So if a company has been investing in environmental technology, I look to see if environmental impacts have improved. If the company has been investing in the community, I look to see what community outcomes have been achieved. A simple "train timetable" of what we have done and how much we have spent is rarely satisfying.

Most companies today have adopted the GRI framework to compile their report and include a GRI Index. I find this very helpful for navigating the report and finding specific information that I require. With such a framework, it is easy to see what has been reported and what not, against a template of universally relevant key issues. Even if the GRI Framework is not used, another type of framework or structure may be fine, but the inclusion of a content index is most helpful.

Authentic Style and Tone
I look for a style and tone which is authentic and not obviously copy-written – one which explains technical terms and helps tell a story rather than just state the dry facts.

Clear Data
I look for data which is presented coherently and where the basis for calculations are clear, so that you know what's included and what's not. I was recently reading a report that provides a figure for Motor Collisions per 100 employees. There is no basis for the calculation. Does this mean all employees or only employees that have a company vehicle? Is it all collisions or only collisions caused rather than experienced? Data must be presented in a way we can understand, and it is interesting to see prior year data for more than one or two years, so that you can get a sense of continuity.

Targets, Progress and Future Plans
I look for SMART targets , and understanding of not only what progress has been made to achieve the targets so far, but also what plans are in place to continue to do so (see SCA's Report for a good example of this). Simply stating that the company will reduce carbon emissions by 20% by 2020 is not terribly convincing. What is convincing is the plan to achieve this.

Stakeholder Voices
I love to see people in the report – all businesses are about people – employees telling their stories, external perspectives and well-written real-life case studies all add to the credibility and easy-reading factor of the report. (Check out this fabulous report from Impahla Clothing)

How Sustainability is Managed
I believe there is importance in how sustainability is managed in an organization – whether there is a Board Committee, a dedicated Sustainability Leader and a corporate Steering Team of some sort. I always look in the report to see who is responsible for leading sustainability strategy and who is on the frontline of execution. A robust structure gives credibility and confidence that progress can be made and objectives can be achieved. (see page 48 of the Toyota Report for an example)

Easy navigation of all the report content – a hyperlinked downloadable PDF is my preference (see Cisco's example), as I can read it without an internet connection. Report-builder features for web-based reports are important (see Timberland's example). I hate flipbooks and other pyrotechnical web presentations, though opportunity to add comments, such as the SAP report , is a nice touch. A good report website is attractive and accessible to many. Either way, it must enable you to get to what you want fast. Not many people read a report from end to end in the order of the contents list.

And finally, I look for Linkage – the link between the company's sustainability performance and its business success. Most companies don't really know how to express this, and there is some expectation that Integrated Reporting might provide a route to expressing this meaningfully. Today, when I see it, it's a bonus, but my starting point premise is that I won't find it in Sustainability Reports, which is quite ironic really, when you think that many companies engage in sustainability in order to support sustainable positive business performance. (I like the way BT does this)

Finally, finally, I look for Assurance. Today, most companies do not use external assurance or verification and those Assurance statements I read are often partial or completely inadequate, so I tend to assume that I won't find a good Assurance statement which is the result of rigorous process and adds credibility to the report. Here again, when I find a great Assurance Statement, it's a bonus. (here is an example from Bureau Veritas, assuring the Nestle 2011 CSV Report)

Those are my shoot-from-the-hip things that work well for me in Sustainability Reports.
Then I thought about answering the question the other way around:

What makes a Sustainability Report bad?

Here, aside from saying the opposite of all the above, I think most of us know the answer to this – marketing orientation without substance, highly selective "good news" coverage with no context or substantiating data, and difficult, stiff, narrative with a tick-box approach to performance.

Truth is, most reports are neither totally good nor totally bad. but who am I to judge? I can say what works for me, but every stakeholder will have her or his own view.

A Sustainability Report is, simply put, what stakeholders make it.

And this brings me to my final point:

What makes a Sustainability Report really, really good?


A Sustainability Report which gets no feedback hasn't hit the radar. And that's bad.
Be a great stakeholder. Give a Sustainability Report your feedback.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen   on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)
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